Toyota Center Adds Mammoth Video Board, Overhauls Control Room for All-Star Season

There are video boards, and then there’s the Toyota Center.

The Houston Rockets embarked on an All-Star season by unveiling the largest indoor center-hung video board in the U.S., one that measures a mammoth 25 x 58 ft. Certainly the centerpiece of the Toyota Center, which is hosting this season’s NBA All-Star Weekend, the venue’s new Panasonic video board is just one part of a $15 million upgrade spearheaded by Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG).

With CTG, Panasonic, and the Houston Rockets working through the summer to ready Toyota Center for the 2012-13 NBA season, team CEO Tad Brown opted to wait until Opening Night to unveil the video board, giving everyone involved several preseason games to practice.

“We were finished and ready to go for the preseason games in the middle of October,” says John Curtis, project manager, CTG. “The facility actually put black drape around the entire board during those preseason games so there was a tremendous opportunity to afford everybody in-depth run-throughs of the system. [When] we unveiled the actual system, everybody was remarkably calm.”

A Stunning Display
The center-hung structure consists of four large HD LED screens manufactured and installed by Panasonic: two 25- x 58-ft. screens bookended by two 25- x 25-ft. screens. Including the video ribbon board at the top of the structure, the viewing area totals 4,194 square ft.

“It’s stunning, to stay the least,” remarks Curtis. “The creative genius of the guys working at the Toyota Center is unmatched in the NBA, from what we’ve seen. The tasteful implementation of extra statistical data: they have stats running up on the board that you wouldn’t think to see in a regular game. They’re just continuing to push the limits of what the system can do.”

Panasonic also designed and manufactured six vomitory video boards, two end-hung video boards, and an exterior marquee and upgraded more than 400 new HD flat-screen TVs around the Toyota Center. Using the company’s playback system, the Rockets can display multilayered graphics on multiple screens simultaneously, as well as control each of the video boards independently. The Panasonic playback system helps to create the reverse-follow feed for the opposite side of the arena to prevent fans from becoming disoriented.

Control-Room Overhaul
In addition to working closely with Panasonic, CTG handled the installation and integration of the Toyota Center’s control room. The company selected a Ross Video Vision switcher and BlackStorm playout server; Evertz router, terminal gear, and multiview processor; EVS replay system; Chyron LEX 3.1 character generator; and 10 ClickEffects systems (five CrossFires and five Blazes).

Four Ikegami HDK-77EC cameras feed the video boards. The cameras’ low-light performance was one reason the HDK-77EC model was chosen.  This allows the production staff to get good crowd reaction shots while the seating bowl is dimly lit.  This camera is an economical docking-style portable multi-format HD camera with CMOS imaging sensors for 1080i/720p HD format flexibility, lower power consumption, and reduced operating temperature, and have the ability to switch between fiber or triax cable use.

A major component of the HD upgrade involved centralizing the edit suite. Previously, the Rockets edited video on standalone machines and shared content on thumb drives. CTG installed a six-station Avid editing system with network storage.

“The EVS is tied directly into the Avid system so the editors can be working on highlight reels before the game is even over,” says Curtis. “At the same time, all of their promo material — all the videos they do for the introductions, the video breaks during the show — are done on the Avid system. All the network drives are mapped to each other so they can push this content over to the playout servers, and, if they make changes to anything or tweak something, they can do it in real time.

“The creative element in the entire production is greatly enhanced by the Avid,” he continues. “[They are] able to do those things in real time that they couldn’t do before.”

The Toyota Center control room is located in the basement of the facility, nearly 200 ft. from the court. Because there is no direct line of sight into the bowl, CTG installed four Panasonic pan/tilt/zoom cameras and a fiber backbone for support.

Curtis explains, “The addition of the PTV cameras was [partly] to give them fixed cameras throughout the facility that they could build into their multiviewer to make the control room feel like it’s much closer to the court than it actually is.”

Ready for All-Star
CTG built as much of the control room off-site as possible, minimizing the room’s downtime. Although the Rockets’ Opening Day was not until Nov. 3, the room was on-line by mid September in time to support a university graduation. As All-Star Weekend approached, the Rockets were ready for all eyes to be on the Toyota Center.

“The HD upgrade is significant,” says Curtis, noting “the creative aspect of what this has brought to the Rockets production staff. They produce all of their videos internally, so they’ve gone from just doing basic promo videos to looking at how these videos play back on all these different surfaces. Now they have the tools to play all this back essentially at the push of a button. It’s really amazing to see the entire system work as one giant system.”